I began this week writing a comment on someone else's post that I wouldn't be talking about 5th edition, and now I'm going to write my third post in a triad about it. Well, not about the specifics, but about the culture surrounding it. There seems a lot that's worth saying.
Wednesday I explained what I thought about the model, and yesterday about my certainty that the game will endure no matter what the company does. Today, I'd like to talk about the community's inevitable response.
I did get a comment that was excessively positive about the WOTC, and about Mike Mearls, head of research and development there, but it sounded so much like spam that I deleted it. I suspect someone from WOTC has found this blog. That would be good. I want them to know I'm unhappy.
There's no question in my mind that blogs, boards and mock media websites sank 4e. The online community was on its back from the first day of release and the hate has never let up, as far as I know. I have heard it said that 4e was surviving on young people who had not played any other version, but the game club that I saw - where it was the only version allowed - was full of people in their 30s and 40s. That game club has since switched to 5th, having received a copy of the game through the Sentry Box in Calgary, where they play. They 'love' it . . . but they 'loved' 4th, too.
Except for small enclaves like this, however, mostly I just find hate. And we've been talking about that hate for seven years now. That's good. I want a lot MORE of it.
The internet is a two-edged sword for corporations. On the one hand, everyone's talking about our game! On the other, oh for fuck's sake, what did we do now? They want to control the message, but they won't. They know that. They're in control right now, because the release hasn't happened. And they'll hold onto that control for as long as possible, because until we see the content, we still rely upon what they say about it. Unfortunately, that isn't going to last.
Once upon a time, I worked for a company that provided an in-home service . . . and this company was very big on marketing. BIG on marketing. They had over a million customers, so they had to be. Being tech-based, however, the customers had a lot of issues with what the service they provided, so the company had to spend a lot of their marketing effort towards making the customers like the product.
What was interesting about the marketing department, that I was attached to, was that they didn't care about the technical status of the product, or its comparison with other, similar products. They only cared that their customers liked the product. In this way, they were a lot like the British Air Command in WW2, that believed the war could be won by bombing alone, or like most artillery divisions, who feel that boots aren't really necessary to win a battle. This is to say, the marketing department's theology - for it could be described as nothing else - was that if the customer could be made to love the brand that much, they'd continue to pay for the service even if the service wasn't provided.
As cognitively dissonant as this is, I can attest to being in meetings where this logic was brought to bear over and over and over.
My feeling is that all marketing departments fundamentally operate according to these principles. Apple is doing very well operating to these principles, though I think they're on their last legs. One day, we're all going to watch Apple implode and everyone is going to say, "what happened?"
You can only ride the popularity train for so long. Sooner or later, people will realize your product is shit. I understand now, not having a decent computer, template or phone to offer, Apple has decided to turn itself into a 'luxury' product. That is, it will sell itself more and more as a computer system to people who don't have time to do anything complicated with a computer. Interesting strategy.
Right now, there are many voices who are still ready to support the WOTC, no matter what. There are many voices who have been marketed into submission. But that's not going to be enough. Dissent is like keying the side of a car. The whole car can be worth $140K, but all anyone can see is that scratch. And we know, right now, that many, many people have their keys out and ready.
Over the next ten months, a lot of people are going to express exhaustion at the dialogue. They're going to encourage an end to the dialogue. They're going to bemoan how much has been said and the need to say it and the endless repetition of the same points. But I say, bring it on. Shout. Don't resist the urge to talk about Next. When you see someone talk about it, say, "Good for you, bring that motherfucking company to it's knees."
The marketing department of the WOTC is dreading the launch. They're dreading the moment when they lose control of the message. They know all this shit about playtesting as been exactly that: a lot of media-manipulated shit. They know that all the 'play-testers' are the sort of people who love to play-test, who have lost their perspective and who now find everything new to be a good thing. People willing to give up a part of their lives to do anything are the sort desperate for the new. It is their fetish.
Unfortunately, however, the world is actually quite reactionary, and on the whole does not like new things. And unfortunately, the Next marketing plan has had to admit that 4e was a mistake. And now they have to sell this new dog to a lot of people who were formerly sold their old dog. Who are now being told the dog they love is ugly.
Well, keys ready, people. Do not disappoint the marketing department. Make them understand that all their fears are justified. Slam them, day and night, and cheerfully. Because after this turkey hits the market, with both positive and negative aspects, its going to prove to be like every other turkey this company has fostered . . . with both positive and negative aspects. The WOTC has stupidly, pedantically and cryptically decided as a company that their goal is to try to please everyone.
By all means, they should suffer for that.